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Russia mourns victims as Moscow terror attack deaths rise to 137

2024 Crocus City Hall terrorist attack (governor of Moscow Oblast)
April 01, 2024

Russia held a national day of mourning on Sunday after the terrorist attack that killed at least 137 people in Moscow, as officials continue to suggest a Ukrainian role in the massacre claimed by Islamic State.

The investigation of the crime scene continues, the state investigation committee said on Telegram. So far 62 bodies have been identified.

Russians lined up to donate blood, and many added flowers and candles to a makeshift shrine outside the Crocus City Hall on the edge of Moscow. President Vladimir Putin lit a candle for the victims in a church at his state residence west of the capital, according to the Kremlin.

Amid heightened security at major airports and railway stations, people gathered in memory of the victims across the country. TV channels canceled entertainment programming in a mark of respect.

Putin said in a televised address on Saturday that security services had captured four suspects who he said were trying to flee to Ukraine. While he didn’t directly accuse Ukrainian authorities of involvement in the attack, Putin said a “window” had been prepared for the men to cross the border, without offering evidence.

Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a Saturday video address and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, have denied any role and called the attack a false-flag operation by the Kremlin.

“Their only goal is to motivate more Russians to die in their senseless and criminal war against Ukraine,” Kuleba said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Islamic State claimed responsibility in a Telegram message and later posted a photograph of four men it said had carried out the assault. Overnight it published a video of the four assailants shooting at people in the concert hall and one of them killing a person with a knife.

Friday’s attack was the biggest single loss of life from terrorism in Moscow since Chechen separatists took hostages in 2002 at the Nord-Ost theater. At least 170 people including dozens of attackers died during a botched rescue mission. Friday’s assault took place less than a week after Putin cemented his grip on Russia by claiming a fifth term with 87% of the vote in the presidential election.

The U.S. said Islamic State was solely responsible for Friday’s attack, dismissing suggestions of Ukrainian involvement. “ISIS is a common terrorist enemy that must be defeated everywhere,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson reiterated on Saturday that the U.S. shared information with Russia in early March about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow. She pointed again to an unusual public warning posted by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on March 7 which cited “reports that extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow,” including concerts.

Putin dismissed those warnings when he met on Tuesday with senior Federal Security Service officers. “All this resembles outright blackmail and the intention to intimidate and destabilize our society,” the president said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova hit back at the U.S. on Sunday. “Until the investigation into the terrorist attack in Crocus is completed, any phrase from Washington justifying Kyiv should be considered as evidence,” she said on her Telegram channel.

Amid concerns Putin could use the attack as justification to order a new mass mobilization for his invasion of Ukraine, U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt accused the Russian leader of creating a “smokescreen of propaganda.”

“We have very little confidence in anything the Russian government says,” Hunt said in an interview on Sky News.

Putin on Saturday said authorities had detained all those directly involved in the “barbaric” assault by gunmen, who turned automatic weapons against people attending a rock concert. He vowed to hunt down anyone responsible for ordering and organizing the incursion.

The president spoke after the Federal Security Service announced its agents had detained the suspects in Russia’s Bryansk region, which borders both Ukraine and Russian ally Belarus. The men planned to cross into Ukraine where they “had contacts,” the Interfax news service reported, citing a statement by the service known as the FSB that gave no further detail.

FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov reported to Putin that a total of 11 people had been detained, including the four suspects.

Fire ripped through the massive venue during Friday’s assault after explosions were heard, leading to a partial collapse of the roof. In addition to the deaths some 180 people were injured, Ria Novosti reported on Sunday, citing regional health authorities.

Islamist groups have targeted Russia in the past citing what they call anti-Muslim policies by the Kremlin. The seizure of a school in Beslan in the south of the country led to more than 330 fatalities, many of them children, in 2004. In 2010, twin suicide attacks in Moscow subway stations killed at least 40, while a suicide bombing killed 16, including the attacker, in the St. Petersburg subway in 2017.

The FSB said earlier this month it had prevented an attack on a Moscow synagogue by what it called an Afghan branch of Islamic State, Interfax reported.

Moscow and much of Russia has been largely insulated from the direct effects of Putin’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Kremlin forces launched an air barrage against Ukraine Sunday, including a missile that briefly crossed into Polish airspace, and have stepped up missile strikes against Ukrainian cities and infrastructure in recent weeks. On Friday, Russia unleashed the biggest missile and drone assault on Ukraine so far this year.

At the same time, Ukraine has mounted a campaign of attacks inside Russia even as its troops struggling on the front line amid delays in vital military aid from the U.S. and other allies. Drones have hit factories and oil refineries, while attackers in border regions have staged raids.


© 2024 Bloomberg L.P

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